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DOJ does an about face on white collar crime

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and housing collapse of 2008, the Justice Department launched a series of major legal battles against some of the nation's largest financial institutions over their roles in precipitating the unprecedented economic calamity.

While federal prosecutors were able to secure billions of dollars in fines from these big Wall Street banks, critics pointed out that not a single top-level executive was targeted for prosecution. Indeed, the Justice Department has been under fire for a number of years now for taking what many have called a relatively soft stance against punishing corporate executives.

According to a recently released memo sent to all U.S. attorneys' offices, the first major announcement by recently appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch, this hands-off approach is now going to change.

Under the former approach, DOJ officials would focus the entirety of their efforts on a corporation itself, only looking to executives after a settlement had been reached, such that virtually no individual punishment would ever result.

Under the new approach outlined in the memo, however, federal prosecutors are now required to focus on both the corporation and its top-level officials at the outset of the investigation.

Furthermore, the memo dictates that a corporation will no longer be able to secure much-coveted credit for cooperation -- which can save billions and transform the matter from criminal to civil -- unless they willingly identify top officials and provide evidence against them.

"The public needs to have confidence that there is one system of justice and it applies equally regardless of whether that crime occurs on a street corner or in a boardroom,” said Sally Yates, the deputy U.S. attorney who drafted the memo.

Legal experts have already pointed out that the changes called for in the memo are only guidelines, not laws, meaning they are open to interpretation by officials. Furthermore, they indicate that they will not apply to some of the major federal investigations currently underway.

Stay tuned for updates.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with any sort of white collar crime -- from fraud to securities violations -- consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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